Poetry by John Grey

RICHARD, ONCE THE BACKSTREET DEVIL

So Richard it is.
Not the King. Not the Lionheart.
No longer the devil.

Just plain Richard,
an old head given to reminiscence,
of bloodlust, of black masses,
body parts in basement and the freezer.
More memory than I replicate
with these withered hands, bent bones.

Now moonlight scavenges my eyes at night
like crows at squirrel roadkill.
I rock in this yawn of a chair,
whittling long ago human sacrifices
into infrequent sighs.

What year is it? What century?
I abandoned the calendar long ago.
I’m nothing more than
a solitary inspector of spiderwebs,
of scars down my arms and cockroach droppings.

I’ve surrendered my claim
of being what men fear.
I can’t even threaten myself in the mirror.
I’m nothing more than this address,
on a dead-end street
by a stream of slow-rolling sludge.
I no longer roam the neighborhood.

This is the anteroom to my tomb.
Any day now, the clothes I struggle
to put on in the morning
will be my moth-eaten shroud.

When my body is finally discovered,
no one will know the difference
between my rotting putrid flesh
and the cadavers in the closet and the cellar.

The law will look elsewhere for the perpetrator.
I’ll die the death of hardly being mentioned.

THE COMPANY I’M FORCED TO KEEP

She is an echo made visible.
Not corporeal, she’s too wispy for that,
but a happening long ago
that still resonates in shape, in shadow,
sometimes in fluttering images,
or blood-curdling shrieks and howls,
throughout the many rooms of this house.

And a violent occurrence no doubt,
for her mouth is always this half-formed scream,
while her throat is red
and her eyes spin like coins in their sockets.

There’s nothing I can do for an echo.
Its source is over with
but repercussions, like the ripple
from a stone dropped in the water,
can go on interminably.

Go get a priest, someone suggests.
Or find that hidden alcove behind the fireplace
where her bones collect dust.
Or sell up and leave.
Just don’t tell the buyer about the place’s permanent resident.

But, by this, I am used to the echo’s company.
She’s a reassurance that, no matter how bad I have it,
someone or something has it so much worse,
that the pain doesn’t even call a halt on itself at death.
So when I come down with something,
or I go through a breakup, or I hate my job,
I have the guy that slit her pretty neck to thank.
Sure, I moan. I complain.
But my whining has an expiration date.

Check back in a hundred years or so.
There’ll still be ghostly visitations.
But none will be my doing.
The house will resound with cries of endless pain.
But you will not hear it from me.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident, recently published in Soundings East, Dalhousie Review, and Connecticut River Review. His latest book, Leaves On Pages, is available through Amazon.